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THE EASTERN MEDITERRANEAN - August - October, 2002

From the Greek Isles to the Aegean and Mediterranean Turkish Coasts.

We spent this afternoon ghosting along on our small jib in flat seas with a gentle 8 knot breeze. We feel as if we are sailing in the Rocky Mountains. The late afternoon sun brightens sheer rocky cliffs rising from the sea, glinting gray from their crags and peaks and green from the covering brush. Clusters of islands create little bays, cliffs line fjord- like runs and the mountains are a mix of rugged cliffs of granite, rounded green slopes and red, rocky mounds.

This twelve mile long and four mile wide gulf, one of several between Bodrum and Marmaris on the southwest corner of Turkey, is one of the most magnificent cruising grounds we have ever had the pleasure to sail: one bay feels like a New Hampshire lake, while another cove reminds us of a mini Grand Canyon. Other folk have said it looks like Thailand!

Anchored off one of these steep cliffs, with a line from our stern to a rock on the little beach, we are relishing the cooler autumn air and quieter waters. We are the only boat in our anchorage. There are a few other sailboats in the distance gliding in different directions and a gullet, one of the large wooden schooners that are the trademark of Turkish tourism, motors its few fall tourists somewhere.

There is little sign of human habitation on land, except a few terraced fields on the sloping hills and some small fishing boats pulled onto a beach at the head of one of the fjord-like cuts. At 4 PM, we swam comfortably in water so clear we could see our anchor in 25 feet of water, but at 6 PM we need long pants and sweaters, as the sun sets.

These are our last few sailing days and then we shall point south and east around the coastal corner to return to the lovely green pine forests rising on the red mountains of Marmaris Bay, which is a Turkish fishing village turned beach resort. We have settled on a marina just outside of the bustle of town, to ready the boat for the winter and ourselves for our return October 22, to our land home in the USA.

On August 1, we crossed the 16 miles from the Greek Island of Simi to Turkish waters and made our Anatolian landfall in Keci Buku, which sits at the head of this same, long, protected gulf and was our wonderful introduction to the Turkish coast. We rendezvoused here with a boat in whose company we had departed the Chesapeake Bay for the Caribbean in 1996. DOVKA returned to the States and then came across the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, while CINNABAR went west through the South Pacific and Indian Ocean, wending their way up the Red Sea into the Mediterranean, early this spring. One of the joys of cruising is the way one meets people again and again in different parts of the world at different times.

Another joy is the ease with which we can sail our home from one place to another and immerse ourselves in a different world. We have done just that for the past two months in Turkey and have found it fascinating. We have found some swift winds in which to sail, isolated coves in which to anchor, charming villages, good marinas in which to make repairs, overflowing markets, delicious produce, thousands of years of history, and a warm and welcoming people, who are an interesting and complex cultural mix of Europe and Asia.

We have learned that Turkey is a Moslem country, but a secular state with open hostility to their Arab 'brothers' and a cozy relationship with Israel. They like Americans and are saddened that we seem to have stopped traveling to their country since 9/11. We see the impact the world economy has on a struggling nation who develops pneumonia, when the elephant nation sneezes with a cold. And we see a nation trying to keep the Islamist fundamentalists in check, when we in the USA seem to be giving them more and more fuel for their fires.

September Touring
Traveling inland exposed us to the excitement of exotic Istanbul; to minaretted mosques with muezzins moaning the call to prayer five times a day; crowded bazaars piled with carpets, gold and silver, spices and lots of junk; intricate Lydian tombs carved high into cliffs; layers and layers of history, only vaguely familiar to us previously; vast ruins of Greek and Roman cities; rural Muslim life in a secular society; and the poverty of a nation struggling to westernize.

We spent Yom Kippur in Istanbul, attending services at Neve Shalom, the Sephardic shule which was bombed in 1989, killing 26 people. Security was tight and there were hard hats under each seat, but we were told those were for earthquakes, not terrorist attacks. We recognized only one melody during services, but really enjoyed the singing and chanting. And it was basically the same prayers being said by Jews all over the world in whatever language and with whatever differing customs. Break the Fast at friends of friends of a friend, who were extremely hospitable, was wonderful, with fascinating people from many different places.

The highlight of our land travel this season was our adventure in Cappadocia, located in the central region of Turkey. This is the real beginning of the continent of Asia, just beyond the Aegean coast, which represents the furthest reaches of Europe. Cappadocia was once the heart of the Hittite Empire, later, a vast Roman province, and now is an agricultural area with many vineyards and orchards. It was a major stop on the Silk Road trade route leading east further into Asia.

Volcanic action ten million years ago spread a layer of soft, porous rock called tuff over the region. Continuous erosion has cut deep valleys and canyons that are filled with startling and unearthly rock formations. The tuff was easily carved and the inhabitants of the region excavated to make sturdy dwellings. Early Christians found security in cave churches and homes. Intact ruins of large cave dwelling communities and monasteries abound.

When the Arab armies swept across the Anatolian plain in the 7th c, thousands of Christians hid and lived in huge underground cities, which may have been first excavated by the Hittites. It was intriguing to learn about early Christianity (there seems a great similarity to Communist philosophy in its early days) and to see how a religion develops to attract converts, co-opting pagan cults and rituals into its own practices.

As we hiked the rugged valleys, climbed into cave dwellings and explored underground, we were awestruck by the layers of civilizations that have lived in this Arizona like desert plain with its insular mountains. Each thrived for a period and then was overtaken by another society who built on what was left. Large communities lived in the caves into the mid 20th century. Some still live in villages carved in the stone formations, as they have for millennia. The poverty and remoteness of their world was striking, but so was the hospitality and warmth of these people. The timeline alone gives one pause. The beauty of the vast, natural rock sculpture spread out before us, seeped into our souls.

We ended this adventure with an exhilarating sunrise balloon ride over the Cappadocian landscape, rising high above the peaks allowing a view as vast as the ocean and then floating gently down through narrow valleys, rippling through the tops of apple trees and almost, but not quite, touching the tops of fairy chimneys (strange white pillars with a dark rock delicately balanced on their tops).

The expert Swedish pilot landed the balloon basket in which we stood, right onto its trailer! We toasted our landing (and life!) with champagne, standing on the edge of a cliff looking out onto the weird Cappadocian landscape flooded with the soft, early morning sunshine.

Savoring The Last Sailing Days
Last week, back in Marmaris, after several weeks of lovely coastal cruising, we had our first rainy day since last April, a warning that, with the arrival of October, the weather is changing and it is time to come home, after 1800 miles of sailing, sixty one ports and six months of traveling.